Our Thai-Dye Adventure: A Colourful Day in Phrae

It’s always the experiences that are spontaneous and unplanned that are the most fun—and this proved to be true in Phrae, a small province in northern Thailand.

While visiting the Mulberry Farm, our beautiful hosts suggested we try our hand at designing our own fabrics. I wasn’t sure what to expect as we parked the truck on a busy street and walked past a clothing shop, down a winding back alley, past small apartment buildings and into an open area where everything was tinted with a beautiful shade of blue!

I was excited to learn more about this art, as the only other time I’d attempted to tie-dye anything was in kindergarten, and I’m sure it was a disaster. I’m not that great with crafts.

phrae tie dye shirts

Dipping into the indi-goo. (Outpost/Michael Fraiman)

First, we chose our cut of fabric. Jess chose a cute, off-the-shoulder shirt, while I chose a simple, square piece of cloth. I didn’t want to get fancy because I had zero idea what I was doing.

Next, a lady helped us pick the pattern we wanted to design. Again, I went for simple squares, while Jess opted for an elaborate diamond design. The lady showed us how to fold our fabric, tucking and wrapping it effortlessly inside itself with knots and elastic bands. She ended up doing ours for us as we both lack skills in the crafting department.

phrae tie die diy

Jess takes a dip into the cauldron. (Outpost/Michael Fraiman)

Once the fabric was folded correctly, she brought us over to a huge vat of bubbling, dark indigo goo. Donning our aprons and wearing long rubber gloves up to our elbows, we dipped our fabrics into the thick, slimy pool. Turns out, this indigo sludge was a plant-based dye that comes from the hom tree. The process of obtaining the dye goes something like this:

  1. Harvest the leaves of the hom tree
  2. Bundle the leaves together and soak them for 24 hours
  3. Overnight, the leaves ferment and turn the water blue
  4. Add builder’s lime (not the fruit) and mix vigorously
  5. As it oxidizes, the water changes from a murky green to a peacock blue
  6. Strain through a fine cloth
  7. Voila! You have a beautiful indigo-coloured, completely safe, plant-based dye!
phrae navy blue tie-die

Abra shows off her tie-dye headscarf. (Outpost/Michael Fraiman)

After dipping my cloth into the dye, I rinsed it and rinsed it again. Then we placed our fabrics into a commercial washer and gave them a quick spin. Once it came out of the washer, I hung my tiny cloth in the sunlight to dry. As it dried, it lightened from a deep violet to a beautiful navy blue!

I’ll be honest, I was planning on giving it to my mom as a kitchen towel, but after tying it onto my head as a scarf, I decided I should probably keep it. I was very proud of my new, one-of-a-kind headscarf. Sorry, Mom! Maybe I am just a little bit crafty.

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